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Letter to the Editor, RE: A Gloomy View of Immigration, New York Times

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 00062658 (posted Jun. 26, 2000)"

June 26, 2000

Letters to the Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

To The Editor:

Siliva Nasar legitimately criticizes George J. Borjas for his new book ("A Gloomy View of Immigration," Oct. 10, 1999). However, Ms. Nasar’s article omitted some key facts. For example, the article did not mention that the key thesis of the work is refuted by a study Mr. Borjas himself edited, or that economic statistics and key policymakers disagree with that thesis, or that the book parallels a study conducted by a notorious anti-immigrant group.

Mr. Borjas apparently has not read a 1998 working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, showing "that since the mid 1980s the average skill of new, U.S. legal immigrants has been rising relative to that of the U.S. population." Interesting, Mr. Borjas was the editor of a volume on immigration containing the NBER study. But he now contends that the opposite is true.

His view on the economic role of immigrants is disputed by none other than Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. In its last two monthly reports on the U.S. economy, the Fed notes that widespread labor shortages exists throughout the country, predominantly among such industries as retail establishments, restaurants, resorts, and agriculture. That’s why Chairman Greenspan told Congress earlier this year that “we should be carefully focused on the contributions which skilled people from abroad, unskilled people from abroad, what they can contribute to this country.” Asked how to stop the worker shortage from re-igniting inflation, Greenspan responded, "If we can open up our immigration rolls significantly, that will clearly make that less and less of a potential problem."

Likewise, Mr. Borjas’ statistics on income levels are not supported by the most recent Census Bureau studies, which show that virtually all socio-economic groups have seen their income levels rise. While Mr. Borjas acknowledges that immigrants are helping to boost the number of workers as the U.S. population ages, he does not put that important information into context. Even with immigrants, the number of people between the ages of 25 and 50 – the prime working age – has dropped by 14% over the past decade. Studies show that without immigrants, the rising ratio of elderly to working young could reduce American living standards by half-a-percent over the next 40 years; by more than 10% between now and 2050. That is because fewer people would be working, producing less in taxes to fund greater and more expensive benefits.

The public and policymakers need to know those facts, in order to understand the anti-immigrant message behind Mr. Borjas’ book. They also need to understand that America is a nation of immigrants; that immigrants contribute to our society; and that immigrants are central to our continued economic growth and vitality.


Steven A. Clark

Mr. Clark is a partner in the Cambridge, MA, law firm of Flynn & Clark.